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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Cougars must stop run to hold down California’s air raid attack

PULLMAN – Bay Area cardiologists have been warned: Washington State and California are playing again.

Last year’s 60-59 Cal victory in Pullman was a ping-pong match with pads, one that included a 56-point third quarter, two special teams touchdowns in two chances, a single-game passing record and, just as the break-neck scoring reached its feverish climax, a missed field goal from 19 yards that immediately changed the game’s outcome.

That game wasn’t so much decided as it was forcibly ended, a full-contact version of musical chairs in which the rules stated that whatever team happened to be momentarily ahead when the scoreboard clock struck zero was declared the victor so everyone could go home.

“The vibe was just up and down,” safety Taylor Taliulu said. “Football games, there’s going to be adversity. That’s what they stress here: There’s going to be adversity at all times during a football game and you’ve got to prepare yourself.”

On Saturday, the Cougs and Bears will settle the score in Berkeley with a rematch in which even a single defensive stop could prove decisive.

“It’s going to be a great test for us,” nickelback Parker Henry said. “I think we’ve been playing teams that are more running style, but we are an Air Raid offense ourselves and it’s kind of like looking in the mirror when we look at them.”

For the WSU defense to get the Cal offense off the field by means other than a touchdown, it will have to generate pressure on quarterback Jared Goff. The Golden Bears’ QB has started all three years he’s been on campus, led Cal to its first 4-0 record since 2007, and seems poised to take his team to its first bowl game since 2011 before leaving to possibly be the first quarterback selected in the upcoming NFL draft.

Goff’s strengths mark off the checklist of desired quarterback traits – he makes good decisions, he throws it well and he’s mobile enough to avoid bad situations.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” outside linebackers coach Roy Manning said. “He has great command of that offense, he knows exactly where he wants to go and he has a good feel for pressure and making plays with a hand in his face.”

But Goff can be had. He was sacked five times by Washington last weekend in Cal’s 30-24 win, which is principally why the Golden Bears only scored 30 points despite generating five takeaways on defense.

To get after Goff, the Cougars will first have to stop Cal’s running game, as the Huskies did while holding the Golden Bears to an average of 2.7 yards on 51 carries. Unlike most iterations of the Air Raid offense, and certainly unlike the one at WSU, the Cal offense runs the ball a little more often than it throws it.

“You’ve got to stop the run,” linebackers coach Ken Wilson said. “You’ve got to get them in predictable situations.”

It does appear that Cal will get starting running back Daniel Lasco back this week. He’s complemented by 230-pound power back Vic Enwere and speedster Khalfani Muhammad.

The defense WSU will employ can trace its origins back to last year’s Cal loss. The game began well enough for the WSU defense, which forced three punts on Cal’s first three drives. But the wheels came off in the second half as Golden Bears scored a touchdown on every drive. The Cougars gave up more than 30 points in every game afterward and defensive coordinator Mike Breske was fired after the season.

It’s still early to judge his replacement, Alex Grinch, although the defense did shut out Wyoming over the final three quarters of WSU’s last game. If Grinch can find a way to stop the Cal offense, he will likely endure himself to the WSU fans whose blood pressure would benefit from just a little less scoring between Cal and the Cougars this year.

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